2023-11-05Updated on 2023-11-12

Professional Distortion#

A tendency to have our worldview shaped by our profession, even when the resultant beliefs and justifications may be inappropriate to the matter at hand.

The term has its origins in the medical diagnosis of physical deformations associated with specific kinds of labour.

Professional distortion may be observed in experts, due to the intense focus required by their discipline, the self-efficacy gained through their accomplishments and the pressure on those with expertise to not extend themselves beyond their discipline.

All problems and puzzles will then be viewed in a haze of metaphors borrowed from their narrow professional context. These become epistemological obstacles that actively stifle progress towards solving the problem.

This circumstance is not solely due to the arrogance of experts but also the impossible position in which they are placed by society.

An expert must still exist in a varied world and respond to it daily. Admonishing them for going beyond their expertise may simply entrench them in narrow mental models. This increases the likelihood that they will misapply those mental models or simply disengage from societal discourse altogether.

The inability of specialised individuals to speak on general matters may lead to an expert-citizen paradox, in which democracies that foster specialisation are populated with expert-citizens inhibited in their democratic participation.

Doing a PhD or a trade is not just an act of becoming an expert, it is also a process of learning how expertise is developed.

Confronted with a new problem, an expert should be equipped to understand what it takes to develop the relevant expertise. They may be humbled and revert to their daily tasks, be encouraged to seek that new knowledge or recognise those around them who are better placed to offer solutions.


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